"And if you SPEND YOURSELVES on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday."

"The Lord will continually guide you. He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."- Isaiah 58:10-11

Friday, February 15, 2013

Christmas Compassion

We are back on the ground in Kenya and are thankful for the time spent with family and friends in the US!  

I turned 42 last week and I’m still humbled by how much I have to learn.  This last Christmas was no exception…

After traveling for more than 24 hours, we returned to Kenya from the US late on Christmas Eve.  Exhausted, we finally fell into bed around midnight.  On Christmas morning, we slept in, enjoyed being together as a family, exchanged some gifts and had a delicious lunch with some friends in the afternoon. 

The rest of the week we spent with good friends on The Hill and the kids we love so much.  My guess is that many of you have a similar Christmas week story - relaxing time spent with family and loved ones.  After all, that’s what Christmas is all about isn’t it?

The first week of January, we returned to Kijabe to prep for school and to get back into the routine of life.  My house help and good friend, Njoki, also returned to work for us in the afternoons.  Monday, when she arrived, we exchanged excited greetings and Christmas gifts and gradually settled into deeper conversation. 

Let me tell you about Njoki.  Njoki is a Kikuyu woman, born to a poor mother who struggled to feed her and her sisters and brothers. Njoki has a strong, determined personality.  Unlike some Kenyans, she doesn’t feel like she is less important or inferior to white people, nor does she feel arrogant around them, like other Kenyans.  She considers us equal - equal in the eyes of Christ.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons she’s so easy to like.

Njoki went to school through 8th grade and then worked to help support her family.  She never married but instead, took in her sister’s children when her sister died.  Then she took in other children who had no place to go.  She has a God-sized, compassionate heart and cannot refuse assisting anyone.  So far, she has raised nine desperate children – some so severely ill when she found them that not even the doctors thought they would live. 

She lives near the Kijabe hospital and takes in anyone who needs help.  Her house is a revolving door of people with nowhere else to go.  She has very little money, and what little she does have, she shares generously with anyone who has a need.  I often send food home with her and as she leaves, she prays and asks God who it’s for.  Sometimes it’s for her children, but more often than not, she will find a needy person on the way home and give it to them instead. She lives completely by faith.  She has never gone hungry, nor have her children, and she has a slew of miraculous stories about God’s provision in her life for EVERY need.

“What did you do for Christmas Njoki?” I asked, not realizing what a loaded question I had posed. 

“Well….,” she said hesitatingly, choosing her words carefully, “We were all going to be together in Nairobi at Margaret’s place, but something came up and we decided to stay here.”  Margaret is one of the girls Njoki raised.  Now, mind you, going to Nairobi is a big deal for this family. Going to Nairobi for them would be like us going to Disney for a holiday.  They were planning to be with close friends that they don’t regularly get to see.

“What do you mean ‘something came up,’ Njoki?  What happened?” I pressed.

And then, she proceeded to tell me about Peterson, the small ten-year-old boy with a big name. She started slowly, but quickly gained speed, becoming more passionate as she talked. Peterson is a partial-orphan whose mother died of AIDS and whose father lives on the streets.  Peterson, who also has lived on the streets, was left at a government orphanage a week before Christmas.  He was so severely ill that the orphanage staff thought he was going to die.  They decided to take him to Kijabe hospital to see if anyone could help or at least give him a place to die.  The government worker who brought him began to inquire around Kijabe about hiring someone to attend to him.  Three different people on three consecutive days came to care for him.  Each, in turn, took one look at him and refused to even come near him. He was dying.  His skin was falling off in places.  He had deep, open, oozing wounds.  He was HIV positive and questionable for TB.  He weighed 22 pounds. The medicine he was given was so painful he would thrash and scream when the nurses injected it into his IV.  Even they were scared to come near him. 

The word “Kijabe” means “place of the wind.”  It has a double meaning in that gossip spreads like the wind around the place as well.  The “Kijabe wind” concerning Peterson blew right into Njoki’s ear, and she immediately went to the hospital to see him.  As the nurses were loudly warning her to put on a gown and a mask so she wouldn’t catch a disease, she indignantly blew past all of them and gently picked the suffering child up in her arms.  She intentionally kissed him on the forehead and began lovingly stroking his arms and speaking words of love and encouragement to him.  She sat with him all day.  This was probably the first time anyone had held him in years. 

Later that day, Njoki called Margaret in Nairobi and told her about the boy.  And, like her adopted mother, Margaret without hesitation said, “I’m coming up, we’ll have Christmas there.”  So she did.  She came to Kijabe along with “Big” Elizabeth and Joseph.  “Small” Elizabeth and Ephriam joined them.  In fact, all of Njoki’s kids came.  They spent all of Christmas break taking turns sitting with Peterson through the day and night and on into January.  They never made it to Nairobi. 

I was stunned by her story.  She gave up 3 weeks to just sit with a sick little boy, who could never repay her, and let him know that he was loved by her and by Jesus.  Who does that?  Who gives up a Christmas celebration in Nairobi with friends and family to sit by a stranger’s bed?  Who uses their personal money to feed someone special meals so they can get strong?  Who sacrifices everything like this? 

Matthew 25:31-40 says this:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “

I have pondered this event in my mind for over a month now.  I’ve cried over my lack of true compassion and my selfishness.  I’ve had to repent and have had to admit that I have a long way to go.  I have prayed for God to change my heart and to bring me to a place where I would do anything for the least of these.  After all, that’s what He did for me when He sent Jesus to earth at Christmas. God, the Creator of the universe, humbled Himself and became a human to let us know we are so loved that He would die for our sin so we could have a restored relationship with Him. 

Though I’ve known it in my head, I learned something this year about the true meaning of Christmas in my heart. Though family and friends are important, Christmas is really about sacrifice - the ultimate sacrifice.  I actually saw it lived out in front of me and will forever be changed by it. 

Peterson was discharged in good health from Kijabe at the end of January and returned to the government orphanage. Unbeknownst to us, he regressed quickly while he was there and was readmitted at a different hospital.  We were heartbroken to learn that he was near death last week.  Njoki rushed to see him on Saturday, but it was too late and he died that afternoon.  He has made a full recovery in the arms of Jesus.  Please pray for Njoki and her family as they are struggling with this great loss. 

May we all find opportunity to serve the least of these today and every day. 

On Oasis for Orphans:
I could go on about this story and the frustration and anger we’ve felt over the loss of this boy.  We knew he was at risk of beign neglected in a government facility but we did not know how severly.  We were working with Njoki to get him into her care.  She begged the government workers to have full custody of him.

I cant even begin to express in words how critical good children’s homs are in providing care for orphaned children.  Please pray for Oasis, support Oasis and spread the word about Oasis as we work together to provide homes for the seemingly endless supply of orphans.  We pray that some day there would be no more Petersons.